SJAA Ephemeris May 2003 | SJAA Home | Contents | Previous | Next


Hsin I. Huang

Two students from Peterson Middle School check the accomodations in the flight deck for KAO. Photo by the author.

Peterson Middle School students boarding the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. Photo by the author.


"Speed Limit 17,500 MPH," a sign is posted on the inside wall of the Centrifuge Accommodation Module (CAM), a mock-up for the International Space Station. I wonder if you get a ticket if you fire an extra thrust, or the space cops will give you a 5 MPH courtesy.

The students in the Project Astro Program at Peterson Middle School, Sunnyvale got a special treat on March 18. Through a special arrangement by fellow astronomer in the project, Brian Day, they toured the NASA/Ames Research Center in Mountain View. Everyone was excited about the biological research programs performed in the CAM.

Later, they were led to Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO). KAO, a C-141 military cargo plane, began its operation in February 1974. Flying at 41,000 feet, this unique observatory allowed astronomical observations above the cloud cover. With its 36-inch infrared cassegrain reflecting scope, it claims the fame of finding the rings around Uranus, among many other discoveries. You may wonder how the scope keeps fixed on a target when the plane is in flight. With a special design, the scope essentially floats in the air, according to the crew. It takes a lot of bumping, but keeps on steady observing.

The plane is no longer in operation. It is parked near the huge Muffett Hanger, visible from Freeway 101.

Before heading back to school, the students saw the tiny back-up space capsule Alan Shepard was supposed to use in his Freedom flight.

I keep hoping that this trip will entice some of the students to become future astronomers or even astronauts.


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